COVID-19 in India: Less than half the tests are RT-PCR

We are witnessing third spike in Delhi which is bigger than the second one: ICMR D-G

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Tuesday 10 November 2020
RT-PCR tests constitute less than half of COVID-19 tests nationally. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
An RT-PCR test. Photo: Wikimedia Commons An RT-PCR test. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Forty-six per cent of the total novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) tests conducted on November 9, 2020 were RT-PCR. Forty-nine per cent were rapid antigen tests, while the remaining were Truenat and CBNAAT tests.  

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare gave these figures in its weekly press conference on November 10. It was the first time that the ministry gave a breakdown of total COVID-19 tests being conducted.  

Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan though dodged a query about whether the ratio had changed over the last two months. “This is a dynamic figure and it keeps on changing. We track this for each state, Union territory as well as nationally,” Bhushan said.

Whenever this question was asked on earlier occasions, either the breakdown was not given or reporters were told these figures were only available with the state governments. 

On Bihar, Bhushan said only 12 per cent of the 1.15 crore tests conducted in the state till now, were RT-PCR. The rest were rapid antigen tests. 

The breakdown is essential. This is because while the Centre’s advisory has been that if a person has tested negative for rapid test but is symptomatic, then a repeat test must be conducted through RT-PCR.

However, many states had not been doing the same and the Centre has shot letters to state governments on a couple of occasions to do this. Also, while a rapid test can give results in a few hours, an RT-PCR test can take anywhere between one and three days. So, while the number of tests may look pumped up due to greater number of antigen tests, their specificity is less than RT-PCR. 

Bihar has especially featured in the discourse due to the election season during which people gathered in huge numbers for rallies, often without following COVID-appropriate behaviour.

Would this result in a spurt in cases there? “Whatever has happened in Bihar during the last seven to ten days would take time to manifest itself, either in terms of new numbers or in terms of any other development. This is something that requires a close watch and we are continuously monitoring it on a regular basis,” Bhushan said. 

He added that the central health ministry team sent to Bihar during the elections did mention in its report that people were not taking adequate precautions and the state was advised to take corrective measures. 

In his presentation to the press, Bhushan said India was among the lowest in terms of cases per million, with a rate of 6,225. He also said that 11.96 crore tests had been conducted so far in the country. In the last two weeks, India had tested more than any other country, he added.

A reporter asked as to whether the government should also look at tests per million population, if it was looking at cases in terms of per million population. In fact, a glance at Worldometer, a global platform tacking COVID-19 numbers, puts India at the 96th position in terms of tests per million.

“We don’t claim we have the lowest cases per million population but it is very much a fact…You can always quibble to find faults and not look at the good work being done. We, however, believe that whosoever is doing good work must be appreciated and if any improvement is required, it must be carried out,” Bhushan told the reporter, advising him to have a look at global platforms.

Spike in Delhi

The national capital has been in the news for the last couple of weeks. In fact, barring November 9, more than 7,000 cases were registered daily in Delhi. 

Indian Council of Medical Research Director-General Balram Bhargava said this was the third peak in Delhi. “The first spike in Delhi was in June and then, the cases decreased. The second spike was in September. This is definitely the third spike, which is bigger than the second spike,” he said.

Bhargava attributed this spike to pollution, cold weather, the wedding season, gatherings of people, and not abiding by rules regarding social distancing and the use of masks.

A reporter asked as to whether Delhi was having community transmission. “The discussion around community transmission is often based on inadequate transmission and less than adequate facts. This discussion should be based on science and facts,” Bhushan told the reporter.

He said the central government had held a series of meetings with the Delhi government last week. The latter had been advised to take certain measures, including ramping up testing and increasing hospital infrastructure to deal with the current situation.  

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